BWW Previews: SPAMALOT Comes to Local Stage, 2/7
What is your name?
What is your quest?
What are you doing this weekend?
If you're like a substantial sector of Louisville's fans of theater, comedy, cult classics and, perhaps, Spam, you're going to see "Monty Python's Spamalot" presented by Mind's Eye Theatre Company and opening Thursday, Feb. 6 at the Martin Experimental Theater in the Kentucky Center for the Arts.
Of course, you have to get tickets first - and those have been going fast in the weeks leading up to opening night, a testament to the enduring power of the work of Monty Python, the legendary British comedy troupe who changed the face of comedy in the 1960s and gave us such unforgettable and mind-bending bits as "The Parrot Sketch," "Argument Clinic" and a song as catchy as "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life," sung by a cadre of crucifixion victims.
"Spamalot" is the stage musical version of the troupe's most enduring film, "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," an absurd riff on the myth of King Arthur and Camelot. The musical is, in the word of Python member and stage adapter Eric Idle, "lovingly ripped off" from the film. The original production was such an event as to attract the likes of Tim Curry ("Rocky Horror Picture Show"), Hank Azaria ("The Simpsons") and David Hyde Pierce ("Frazier") to the cast.
A musical with an epic legacy from a mythic source that graced the grand stages of Broadway is naturally epic in size and scope - and quite the challenge for a local theater company to pull off in the black-box confines of the MeX Theater. But a love for the material - and being game for the challenge - brought Jeff Ketterman and Janet Morris together to work on the project under the banner of their brand new theater company, Mind's Eye.
Ketterman says that when the idea to produce "Spamalot" first came to them, he and Morris presented the script to a few local directors. All found the project "too monumental" for a community theater. So, they opted to pursue it together.
"We have similar tastes, and the shows we like to do weren't being done," Ketterman says. "When I'm auditioning, I try to find stuff that I really want to do. It's a big investment to put time into a full-time show and rehearsals. You want to make sure a show is really something you want to sink your teeth in to."
(Incidentally, you may know Ketterman - who plays King Arthur in "Spamalot" - from his other work around town. He provides the voice of Beasman for Terry Meiners' afternoon radio show.)
"Our tastes are not always what other peoples' tastes are," says Morris, who ultimately took up directing duties. "And we have complementary skills. What I can't do, he can, and vice versa."
Some of the challenges they have to ply those skills to include severing a knight's arms and legs and having a rabbit bite another character's head off live on stage, to say nothing of creating armor and other period costumes and sets with limited time and resources.
"Every aspect is a challenge, more so than we envisioned when we first thought of this," Ketterman says. "But it's been lots of fun."
It's the work and the fun that will go into creating a production that Morris wants to stay as close to the essence of Monty Python as possible.
"I want it to be an imitation," Morris says. "The way they do it is comedy gold. I want the same rhythms of speech as possible. I want Monty Python."
Of course, when Monty Python itself deviates from Monty Python, it presents a new set of circumstances. As is often the case in going from film to stage, certain sequences had to be dropped, others added, changing the shape of a familiar and beloved piece of work.
"That's been the only trouble for some of the cast," Morris says. "The small differences between the show and the movie. Some of them will make comments. 'I like the movie better.' There's a lot we wish was there. But the added scenes are very funny."
The classic bits are there, favorites like the French taunter and the landowner who can't seem to get two guards to understand that no one is supposed to enter his son's room.
Tickets are going fast: at press time, only tickets for Sunday, Feb. 9 and Thursday, Feb. 13 remain. Don't expect your tickets to arrive via swallow.